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HeS-NewsMore than 50 percent of Americans could have diabetes or prediabetes by 2020 at a cost of $3.35 trillion over the next decade if current trends continue, according to new analysis by UnitedHealth Group’s Center for Health Reform & Modernization, but there are also practical solutions for slowing the trend.

New estimates show diabetes and prediabetes will account for an estimated 10 percent of total health care spending by the end of the decade at an annual cost of almost $500 billion — up from an estimated $194 billion this year.

The report, The United States of Diabetes: Challenges and Opportunities in the Decade Ahead, produced for November’s National Diabetes Awareness month, offers practical solutions that could improve health and life expectancy, while also saving up to $250 billion over the next 10 years, if programs to prevent and control diabetes are adopted broadly and scaled nationally. This figure includes $144 billion in potential savings to the federal government in Medicare, Medicaid and other public programs.

Key solution steps include lifestyle interventions to combat obesity and prevent prediabetes from becoming diabetes and medication control programs and lifestyle intervention strategies to help improve diabetes control.

“Our new research shows there is a diabetes time bomb ticking in America, but fortunately there are practical steps that can be taken now to defuse it,” said Simon Stevens, executive vice president, UnitedHealth Group, and chairman of the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform & Modernization. “What is now needed is concerted, national, multi-stakeholder action. Making a major impact on the prediabetes and diabetes epidemic will require health plans to engage consumers in new ways, while working to scale nationally some of the most promising preventive care models. Done right, the human and economic benefits for the nation could be substantial.”

The annual health care costs in 2009 for a person with diagnosed diabetes averaged approximately $11,700 compared to an average of $4,400 for the remainder of the population, according to new data drawn from 10 million UnitedHealthcare members. The average cost climbs to $20,700 for a person with complications related to diabetes. The report also provides estimates on the prevalence and costs of diabetes based on health insurance status and payer, and evaluates the impact on worker productivity and costs to employers.

Diabetes currently affects about 27 million Americans and is one of the fastest-growing diseases in the nation. Another 67 million Americans are estimated to have prediabetes. There are often no symptoms, and many people do not even know they have the disease. In fact, more than 60 million Americans do not know that they have prediabetes. Experts predict that one out of three children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetimes, putting them at grave risk for heart and kidney disease, nerve damage, blindness and limb amputation.

The report also focuses on obesity and its relationship to diabetes. Being overweight or obese is one of the primary risk factors for diabetes, and with more than two-thirds of American adults and 17 percent of children overweight or obese, the risk is clearly rising. In fact, over half of adults in the U.S. who are overweight or obese have either prediabetes or diabetes, and studies have shown that gaining just 11-16 pounds doubles the risk of type 2 diabetes and gaining 17-24 pounds nearly triples the risk.

“Because diabetes follows a progressive course, often starting with obesity and then moving to prediabetes, there are multiple opportunities to intervene early and prevent this devastating disease before it’s too late,” said Deneen Vojta, M.D., senior vice president of the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform & Modernization, who helped develop UnitedHealth Group’s Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance.

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